Playing against a traveling opponent on the second night of a back-to-back, the Magic entered the contest against the Clippers in unfamiliar territory – as favorites. For the first time all season odds makers had given them the slight edge, a designation that looked good early but faded late behind an onslaught of threes and free-throws by Los Angeles.
Both teams started slowly, combining to miss eleven field goal attempts across the game’s opening minutes as they creaked to five apiece on the scoreboard. For the Magic it was Wendell Carter Jr. doing the heavy lifting, muscling his way to 2-4 from the field and also splitting a pair of free throws as he accounted for the entirety of Orlando’s scoring output. Four empty possessions in a row was interrupted by a Jalen Suggs three, before Cole Anthony continued the Magic’s strong foul-drawing to put the team into the bonus situation very early and stake them to a 10-5 lead.
Orlando were able to push their advantage to 8 courtesy of active offense and disruptive defense, scoring on four of their next five possessions to go up 20-12. Franz Wagner was in the thick of it, slamming one home on a beautiful back cut before benefiting from a Chuma Okeke steal that gifted him an easy finish off a broken play. They looked to be seizing the ascendancy, but turnovers (5 in the quarter) and inattentive rotations allowed Los Angeles to get back into it, rattling off 7 straight to kick-start an 11-2 run that tied the game at 23. Suggs got a driving layup to go in the close, the Magic taking a 25-23 lead after one quarter.
A tough Terrence Ross three-point play allowed Orlando to strike first in the second, an advantage he extended with a mid-range jumper on the next possession. Suggs and Okeke continued their solid starts, the Magic’s rookie guard confidently knocking down his second look from the outside and Okeke again causing defensive havoc which he converted into an easy finish at the other end. Franz Wagner then had helpers on Orlando’s next two possessions to assist in pushing the margin to 14.
Just as the Magic threatened to build a thoroughly imposing lead, the Clippers found their mark from beyond the arc. They hit five triples over the next five-and-a-half minutes to slice the lead to just a single point, but strong effort plays – including both baskets from broken plays and effective transition defense – allowed Orlando to keep their nose in front. However, an errant turnover late in the period (the Magic’s eighth of the half) gave the Clippers a chance to take the lead, an opportunity they cashed in courtesy of a Nic Batum three-pointer. When the Magic fumbled away their last possession of the half it ensured they would go to the main break trailing, down 49-48 after giving up a 24-9 run to close the period.
Orlando’s transition offense continued to fuel the side, Suggs and Wagner both finishing on the break after a Mo Bamba block and Anthony steal, respectively. A 6-0 burst allowed them to reclaim the lead, and although the Clippers countered with another pair of three-pointers the Magic were able to handle it by again digging in on defense and hunting run-out opportunities in the open court. Anthony and Suggs were the primary engines, pushing the pace deliberately after defensive rebounds and turnovers alike. When Gary Harris dropped in a mid-range turnaround it capped a 13-3 run, the Magic now leading 69-60.
Orlando sputtered over the next couple of minutes, allowing the Clippers to patiently piece together a 5-0 run. Anthony drew a foul on a three-point attempt to help himself to three easy ones and realign the Magic, which Wagner followed on the next trip with a beautiful loping spin move. However, Los Angeles continued to bomb away from the outside, an Eric Bledsoe three-point make – their thirteenth of the night! – bringing them back within two as the quarter ticked towards a close. When Bledsoe was able to convert a baseline step-back it was tied at 74, but Suggs was able to reclaim the lead for Orlando with one final decisive drive in the period.
Leading 78-76, the Magic would have liked their chances with one quarter to play. They were right to feel that way, having largely controlled the game outside of a pair of short cold spells and the Clippers hopefully unsustainable hot outside shooting. However, it was the Clippers who came out crisper, scoring the first 6 of the quarter from the free throw line as they took advantage of some careless Orlando challenges. Harris snapped the run with a three from the left corner, but Los Angeles were able to get it right back when Luke Kennard countered with his second three of the night. Only two possessions later the Magic committed their fifth foul of the period, putting the Clippers into the bonus with 8:39 remaining and making the 86-81 deficit they now faced a little more daunting.
The teams traded chances over the next few minutes, Orlando getting some valuable play-making from Franz Wagner while the Clippers continued to rack up trips to the free-throw line. When Justise Winslow made LA’s twelfth and thirteenth attempt for the period it re-established a six-point margin, the Magic now trailing 93-87. A Reggie Jackson three briefly extended that to 9, before an authoritative Bamba put back made it 96-89 as the teams headed to a time out.
Almost four scoreless minutes for Orlando ultimately allowed Los Angeles to put the game away, an 8-0 run built methodically by a series of trips to the free-throw line. It was the key to the final result, the Clippers shooting an almost unbelievable 22-25 from the stripe in the fourth quarter alone, a stark contrast to the Magic’s mark of 2-3. A late 10 point burst to Wagner brought some respectability to the final score, the final margin ultimately settling at 111-102.
Orlando’s three stars
Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.
First star: Cole Anthony — it’s no surprise that once Cole went cold, so too did the Magic’s chances of winning the game. He was great at many points, particularly in terms of getting downhill and working at both ends of the court. Finished with 19 points (5-11 shooting), 11 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 ‘stocks’.
Second star: Franz Wagner — the late burst juiced his individual scoring numbers, but it was the Point Franz play that shone brightest tonight. Was frequently dynamic in piecing together 21 points (9-12 shooting), 9 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals, with just a single turnover to boot.
Third star: Jalen Suggs— surprisingly didn’t get to the free-throw line at all, but his head-first play and aggression during transition and run-out sequences frequently had the opposition backpedaling. Finished with 14 points (6-10 shooting), 3 rebounds and 2 assists, and didn’t commit a turnover until the final quarter.
Next up for the Magic is Detroit, with the Eastern Conference’s second-worst positioned team coming to town on Friday night. Orlando will try to get back in the winner’s column again then.